Australia’s Bushfires – both trees and people suffer from green policies

It will be interesting to see how much blame the bushfire Royal Commission places on green policies that lead to insufficient ground fuel burn off and prevented people from clearing trees from around their houses.

Hopefully, this tragic event will spark some recognition among the populace at large that greeny ideas are nutty and downright toxic.

Of course, the death toll was not just a matter of failing to prevent fires; it was also a matter of failing to avoid their wrath.  There should have been better warning systems and better protection including proper public and private shelters.

72 Responses to “Australia’s Bushfires – both trees and people suffer from green policies”

  1. 1 byork

    Hopefully, the green attempts to use the bushfires to justify climate change alarmism will also bring recognition of how reactionary they are. People will want practical evidence-based responses, not quasi-religious doom-mongering. Spiked on-line has an article by Guy Rundle, someone with whom I often disagree, but he makes the following valid point:

    The equation of the current events with climate change is no more persuasive, but more easily dealt with – the one-off nature of the event leaves no basis for any hypothesis of a trend. The 1983 ‘Ash Wednesday’ fires had wind speeds higher than those in the current events; the 1939 fires came out of temperatures as high as those last week. The physical spread of the current fires barely puts them in the top five in terms of the area affected, and the last high-casualty fire was a quarter of a century ago. So it’s not as if one was likely to be surprised by it. Were the heatwave and firestorm to occur again once or more in the next few years, one would have to turn more attention to climate shifts, but its single occurrence is no proof of anything, no matter how dramatic or confronting the event”.
    The complete article may be read at:  

    Clive Hamilton said the following in The Monthly in June last year:

    “FOR most Australians the stoicism that characterised their grandparents’ generation has been transformed from a survival skill to a nostalgic ideal to which we cling. This is why we in the cities love a good bushfire, especially around Christmas time. As the orgy of spending reaches a climax, we begin to wonder whether we have become decadent. The fireys who battle the elements on our behalf remind us of our true selves”.

    How much further to the right can pseudo-leftists move? We each possess true inner selves that are heroic, or want to be, and this essence means no-one can be happy with the decadence of western materialism (modernity). Sound familiar? Spooky, very spooky.

  2. 2 tom

    The voices against the concrete implications of green policies in the affected areas is gaining prominence in the printed media and radio, (the latter coming from a number of residents from burnt out areas being interviewed on the ABC station 774).

    A disturbing, but perhaps not surprising feature of these comments was the practice of using the big stick that a number of green controlled councils have used to prevent residents from thinning the vegetation on their blocks or fining people who actually did so. This occured in direct opposition to advise from forestry and fire management experts tendered to the local governments concerned at the time these policies were being introduced. The advice was very specific about the dangers such policies would court.

    What is most disturbing about this is not their nuttiness but their insistence that others comply, an insistence backed up by threats and legal recourse. It exposes an authoritarianism and an overt anti democratic streak that runs right down the back of the green movement.

    Forcing people to paint thir houses in heritage colours, as some inner suburban councils do is bad enough; forcing people to endure increased risk of death as has now occured in Victoria is of another magnitude. While it is a pity that we’ve just had local government elections people’s memories on this will not be short.

  3. 3 davidmc

    On Tom’s point about recent municipal elections, I remember greenies campaigning against candidates who hadn’t been sufficiently compliant. Let’s hope that next time around saying that you stood up to them is a vote winner.

  4. 4 Syd Walker

    I must say I’m getting used to these guys being in the same club as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine.
    For an alternative analysis, that doesn’t try to score points out of a tragedy, see:
    When Bushfires Rage: It’s not easy Being Green

  5. 5 byork

    The voices from the people who were in danger and who suffered need to be listened to, not just academic ‘experts’ and definitely not green ideologues. The Melbourne-based newspapers, The Sun and The Age, have interesting letters in this regard. From today’s ‘Age’, we find evidence of people taking things into their own hands and, in one case, cutting down 250 trees on their property and being fined (but their house was saved from the fire) and, in another case, someone being granted local government permission to build a small cottage on their property only on condition that they actually plant native trees and undergrowth around the border of the property ten metres from the house. They have refused to comply with a clearly insane requirement.

    Watch out for more voices such as these. There is also the question of fuel reduction burning in the forests – this will now be more popular as it is so obviously necessary to all but those who worship forests. Eucalypts shed a great deal of fuel and the doubling of the fuel in a forest not only doubles the spread of the fire but also quadruples its intensity. David Packham, a bushfire scientist of 50 years experience, is clearly fed up in this article:,25197,25031389-7583,00.html  

    This is one of the letters in today’s ‘Age’:

    Cost of putting trees first

    ABOUT a year ago, and after a nine-month contest of wills, we finally received permission to build a small cottage on our 15-hectare property in the Yarra Valley. Though permission to build was given, it was conditional on us planting a border of native trees and undergrowth 10 metres from the house. We couldn’t believe it.

    We did not comply with this condition and we never will.

    The Yarra Ranges Shire needs to revise its approach to building and native vegetation. The emphasis has to be on creating a safe place to live while encouraging a green environment. Not a “trees at all cost” approach.

    We now all know the cost.

    More here:  

  6. 6 youngmarxist

    Since I’m not a fan of green ideology (like most of the people here), I should sound the warning that it’s too early to  be laying any definite blame for the fires.

    Wilson Tuckey’s comments partly blame himself for not pushing harder while he was Forestry Minister for a reduction in fuel. However he also blames the major parties (his own included) for “running around, putting in more reserves to get green preferences”. This ignores the deeper fact that green ideology is capable of attracting votes, and that it is up to those who oppose it to convince people that there are ideologies that might better suit them.

    As far as Yarra Ranges Shire Council goes, only one councillor, Samantha Dunn, is a member of the Green Party – the list of elected councillors is here. So it’s not as simple as the Green Party muscling people into their way of doing things. What’s more likely is that small-g green ideas are very common amongst Council staff at policy-drafting level.

    We certainly can’t say yet which policy did or did not make the fires worse than they otherwise would be – but the policy Barry mentions about forcing people to plant trees near houses sounds dangerous at first glance. Even if such a policy had nothing to do with the current bushfires,

    Syd Walker accuses people here of being in the same boat as Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt, but has nothing to say about green attempts to explicitly blame climate change for the power of the fires, as Professor Tim Flannery does here:

    Writing in The Guardian newspaper in Britain, the acclaimed scientist said environmental conditions had become more extreme than ever in the lead-up to the deadly blazes, causing the fires to be “quantitatively different from anything seen before”. Professor Flannery warned Australia would face more terrible fires in the future unless policies on fossil fuels and pollution emissions changed. “We must anticipate more such terrible blazes, for the world’s addiction to burning fossil fuels goes on unabated,” he wrote. “And there is now no doubt that emissions pollution is laying the preconditions necessary for more such blazes.

    At least Syd isn’t blaming the same Jews he thinks killed President Kennedy.

  7. 7 Syd Walker

    A somewhat more fair-minded comment from ‘youngmarxist’.
    As a matter of fact, I do have something to say – in my article – about conservationists not using this incident to bolster the argument that climate change is real. I say I prefer they didn’t. IMO, the time for analysis and blame-laying is not now (rounding up arsonists, of course, is a different matter. That must be done promptly before the trail goes cold). I wrote my article before I’d seen Tim Flannery’s piece. But he is entitled to his point of view – as are we all.
    No, I don’t blame the Israel Lobby for the bushfires. I hope that they, in turn, don’t recycle anti-Muslim xenophobic nonsense that was already put into the public domian, via the mass media, some time ago.
    For an overview of this see Beyond the Fringe:  Conflating Terror with Arson – An Incendiary Trail Note in particular this disgraceful article from the Age last September, quoting anonymous sources (who else): Islam group urges forest fire jihad
    Each case is not the same. The assassination of JFK did not have the same causes as the Victorian bushfires. You don’t have to be a genius to see that.
    If you wish to criticize the hypothesis that ultimate co-ordination of the assassination of JFK was by pro-Israel interests, why not read about it before sneering? Here’s some assistance: Final Judgment: the Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy

  8. 8 bill weller

    The Greens as well as all left groups are kooky. The support of Islam by the left is alarming, good thing the left has minor following and getting less by the day. The only way left parties can gain support is to move to the right

  9. 9 youngmarxist

    I posted my previous comment before finishing it. I meant to say:”Even if such a policy had nothing to do with the current bushfires, it sounds dangerous and stupid. Whether or not foolish policies driven by green ideologies directly contributed to the dangers of the current bushfires, those policies should be opposed anyway”.

    I don’t think we’ve been nuanced enough on this site in dividing different green ideologies from each other. Not all greens hate people and hate progress (although there is a dangerous core that certainly does). I think we would be over-reaching ourselves if we set a goal of ridding the earth of green ideology. However what we can do is set the goal of isolating the more anti-human types of green ideology and keeping them far from power. To do that, we will likely now and again have to ally with more realistic greenies.

    Syd, you criticised this article and the comments it attracted for “trying to score points off a tragedy”. But when I pointed out that other people tried to do exactly the same thing from a Green point of view, you are much more forgiving: “He is entitled to his view, as are we all”.

    I’ve seen quite a few people come through this site, decide we are beyond the moral pale, and spend some time denouncing us. As far as I can see, that’s all you are interested in.

    As for your link re a supposed connection between Israel and the assassination of President Kennedy, that link has no footnotes to allow the sources of its wild claims to be checked. The top of the article identifies it as being presented at a conference co-sponsored by The Barnes Review and The Institute for the History of Russian Civilisation.

    You can tell The Barnes Review is anti-semitic once you look at its front page. You get four books for free if you sign up to their magazine. One of them is Matthias Chang’s “Brainwashed for War: Programmed to Kill: The Zionist Global War Agency”, and another is “The Passion Play at Oberammergau”, which is well-known for promoting an anti-Semitic world-view. Click here to see a book review which points the way to some reading about this, and click here to read an online book about a Reform rabbi’s impressions as he watched the play.

    The Barnes Review also offers for sale David Irving’s “Churchill’s War”, Volume One of which I have read from start to finish, twice. Irving’s thesis is that the decline of the British Empire is the fault of Winston Churchill, who through financial and moral corruption fought Hitler, when it would have been in the interests of the Empire to make a deal with Hitler and let him conquer the Soviet Union. Irving must be the first person to seriously advance such a thesis since Lord Halifax.

    The Institute for the History of Russian Civilisation seems just as reactionary, although it’s hard to know what they might think of a historical thesis that would allow Germans to rule Holy Russia (a term their website likes to use). It seems to tend towards “Third Rome” Russian exceptionalism and anti-Western paranoia. One of the monographs they promise will be released soon is “The Money Power of the Antichrist”. Now let me see if I can think of any ethno-religious group for whom “banker” is a traditional euphemistic dog-whistle…

    So I conclude, from half an hour digging below the surface of your link, that the theory you promote of President Kennedy’s assasination being the work of Israel is itself the work of antisemites who have every interest in making Israel seem to be the fount of all evil in the world. To accept such a theory from those sources would require especially hard evidence, rather than assertions without any backup.

    This sort of anti-Semitic rubbish just gives Zionist warmongers a free kick and needs to be shot down in flames. No-one serious about winning people over to an anti-Zionist point of view should subscribe, even for a minute or a sentence, to this sort of paranoid, anti-Jewish rubbish. The fact that you, Syd, would think that this sort of garbage is OK persuades me to doubt everything you say.

  10. 10 Syd Walker

    Hi youngmarxist
    If it’s footnotes you’re after, you’ll enjoy Final Judgment. There are few books on the JFK assassination that are more copiously footnoted. Of course this book, blacllisted from all highstreet booksellers, has grown over time. Now in its sixth edition, it has accumulated more and more supporting data like a snowball.
    Yes, of course you can make out a case for buirning it. But I suggest you get hold of a copy and read it first. Just don’t show your friends – at aeast until afterwards. They may double as thought police. -)
    This incovenience is necessary, IMO, if you actually want to understand who killed JFK and why. Most people are happy not to know. The likes of Noam Chomsky are happier we don’t know.and try to reassure us it’s not worth caring.
    Only a few of us have a thirst for knowledge sufficient that we take some intellectual risks.

  11. 11 youngmarxist

    Syd Posing in his Delightful New Tinfoil Hat

    Syd, you came here and started lecturing us on our views on the Iraq war, where we are in a tiny minority amongst those who call themselves Left-wing. We don’t need your advice about taking intellectual risks.

    Now, while I’d love to give more money to the anti-semitic, reactionary author of the book you’re pimping, I can’t. I’ve spent all my money this fortnight on tinfoil, to make a hat.

    How rude do we have to be before you get that this is not a site for anti-semitic propaganda?

  12. 12 Syd Walker

    You look very nice in your hat, youngmarxist. It suits you.
    If you don’t wish to discuss topics (with appropriate references cited), I suggest you don’t raise those topics.

  13. 13 keza

    This is a thread on the bushfires in Victoria, Australia.   I think David (youngmarxist) made a mistake in raising Syd’s anti semitic /conspiracy theory orientation  here. That has just given  Syd the opportunity to begin using this thread to peddle his own reactionary (and loony) views. 

    It may make sense at some point to launch a thread on why people embrace conspiracy theories (I think it’s a form of (philosophical) idealism gone mad, which erupts when world events seem to make no sense).  The idea of shadowy people pulling the strings of history can find fertile ground in the absence of any understanding of historical materialism. And there is a long tradition of “blame the Jews” (which is precisely what feeds Zionism as an ideology). 

    We won’t tolerate anyone who peddles anti-semitism, or any other form of racism on this site. Peddling such ideas is entirely different from engaging in reasoned discussion about the role of religion, ideology, culture in history.   Syd is doing the former and I’ve now put him on moderation so that I can review anything he posts before it’s published.

    Just a short comment on the issue of ad hominem attack.  In another thread Syd accused us of engaging in ad hominem attack by raising the issue of his anti-semitism.   I don’t think that was an ad hominem attack because quite clearly Syd uses anti-semitic arguments (if we can call them that) to justify his stance on various things. However Syd’s remark: “I must say I’m getting used to these guys being in the same club as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine.” is a clear cut case of an ad hominem argument.  Here he just says that we shouldn’t be listened to because  our views on some things are similar to Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine.  That is in no way an argument against what we say, it’s just name calling.

    Let’s get this thread back on topic now.

  14. 14 Syd Walker

    OK. I’ll leave you folk to chatter among yourselves happily, like you usually do.
    I simply cannot stand discussiing topics with people who routinely insult and defame.

    If I said “same club as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine” it was simply to point out the fact that on two key topics I’ve discussed with you folk here (Iraq and the Bushfires) you seem to be saying the same things they say.

    It is a quite different matter to call someone an ‘anti-Semite’, implying they have an irrational antipathy towards Semitic people (Arabs, Sephardic Jews, Hittites etc) or whatever else you might mean by a term you studiously avoid defining, although you slosh it around like red paint.

    The assertion is palpable nonsense in my case and I utterly repudiate it. Be careful making such blartantly false claims about other people. Not everyone is a unintested in litigation as I am and someone else that you brazenly defame may just take you on.

  15. 15 keza

    I’m feeling argumentative today so I let that last comment through moderation in order to reply to it.

    Syd…. cut the crap!!  We all know that in common parlance, the term anti-semitic refers to dislike of Jews.  I have no problem defining it for you, although really I shouldn’t have to.  Here’s a quote from the wiki page on it

    The term Semite refers broadly to speakers of a language group which includes both Arabs and Jews. However, the term antisemitism refers specifically to attitudes held towards Jews.


    Antisemitism (also spelled anti-semitism or anti-Semitism; also known as Judeophobia) is a term used to describe prejudice against or hostility towards people of Jewish lineage, which is ultimately rooted in, and based upon, an historical religio-cultural aversion to their core ancestral religious beliefs and way of life.

    I have not accused you of having an antipathy toward Arabs, but I have accused you of having an antipathy toward Jews and I know  that these days the  correct term for that is “antisemitism”.  Stop trying to wriggle out of it – it’s all there on your website (and in various places that you link to).

    It’s interesting that in your list of semitic peoples against whom you claim to not be prejudiced you list the Sephardic Jews and the Hittites. Conspicuously absent is any mention of the Ashkenazi Jews. These are the ones you really dislike…. as is typical of most anti-semites actually.   They were also Hitler’s main victims.

    Of the estimated 8.8 million Jews living in Europe at the beginning of World War II, the majority of whom were Ashkenazi, about 6 million — more than two-thirds — were systematically murdered in the Holocaust. These included 3 million of 3.3 million Polish Jews (91%); 900,000 of 1.1 million in Ukraine (82%); and 50–90% of the Jews of other Slavic nations, Germany, France, Hungary, and the Baltic states. Sephardi communities suffered similar depletions in a few countries, including Greece, the Netherlands and the former Yugoslavia.[58] Many of the surviving Ashkenazi Jews emigrated to countries such as Israel, Canada, Argentina, Australia, and the United States after the war. (Wikipedia).

    Your veiled litigation threat shows only the shakiness of your position. 

  16. 16 Syd Walker

    You can’t seem to write a single response to me without inventing things you claim I say or think I intend to mean.
    Then, to demonstrate your erudition, you cite Wikipedia. I really don’t have time to come back here again to check what other lies you’ve written. Let it be. Sorry I ever bothered to converse with you people. My mistake.

  17. 17 dalec

    Er there is only one problem with your “Greens caused the recent fires in Victoria” hypothesis.The 1939 fires. Seems they preceded the advent of the “Greens”.The fire situation in Victoria is vastly more complex than your sad little rewrite of Miranda Devine would admit.Nothing in your post at all about the fact that the fires at Kinglake were apparently caused by the failure to properly maintain power lines, for example. No it was all the greens fault.The major failure of those of green disposition is the failure to recognise that the most common species of eucalyptus tree is a “fire weed” . In evolutionary terms it has been successful in driving out competing species from the lower latitudes of  the country. It does this because it can regenerate itself after the most severe fires that kill other trees and vegetation. The flash point of Eucalyptus oil is only a few degrees C above the temperatures reached in the heat wave preceding the fires. If the tree is ignited it basically explodes into a huge fireball. See the Photo’s in the latest “Sunday Age”. One solution to the fire problem in the wooded areas of Victoria seems to lie in the large scale introduction of other tree species – probably “exotics” that will mediate the fire intensity. No doubt the “Greens” would  oppose this.Be interesting to see the position of Strange Times on the question.Dalec 

  18. 18 tom

    Should I bite? Oh, why not. Greens “caused the fires” Dalec? I never realised they were that powerful … Inflammatory at times in their language and beliefs I’ll concede, but controlling the temperature? withholding the rains? Now that is serious stuff, omnipotent in fact; (perhaps I should start believing in God, especially a vengeful one; would he/she/it be coloured green?).No, the prevailing conditions were always going to mean that something very big and nasty was likely to happen on the fire front. The criticism relates to how human made policies – in this case green ones – would impact upon human populations in the effected areas. The fire was a given, if not on that day, then on another. It’s the level of  loss to life and community that is the issue and whether or not this level was avoidable. I’m unconcerned that you think that the contributors above – including me – are stupid but perhaps you should direct your comments to the numerous survivors of the effected areas who are making their opinions known.

  19. 19 dalec

    Tom, I think the survivors are making their feelings known by the class action against the power company that owns the power line that is suspected of causing at least one of the fires.Have not heard of any class action against the Greens. Only thing I hear is every right wing nut case blathering on about how it is all thier fault. Like I said, I think it is far more complex issue than simply identifying the “evil ones”. Dalec

  20. 20 Bill Kerr

    wrt dalec’s point about the 1939 fires, yes, I agree they are comparable to the current disaster. Our environment was shaped by thousands of years of aboriginal burning, which led to the predominance of eucalypts which regenerate well following fire. So the trend has been from regular fires (aboriginal) to European style settlement accompanied by decrease in regular burning. This applies to both 1939 and the present. It leads to more fuel in the forests and so when fire occurs – it cannot be prevented at this point in our history since it  may be caused by lightning, arson, power lines down etc. – it is inevitably far more intense.

    Dalec’s policy of replacing our dangerous native fauna is a good one but will take some years so we need something in the meantime.

    I read a few articles by David Packham (former CSIRO scientist), starting with a link provided by Barry in this thread. He has pretty much predicted everything that has happened and has been arguing for some years that the only real solution is extensive preventative burning to reduce fuels. The fuel stored in forests is equivalent to several thermonuclear weapons and so the only solution is to reduce that fuel.

    This article by Packham, written in 2002 is amazingly prescient. Not all greens oppose this fuel reduction strategy but many do. I was interested to see that Tim Flannery, a well known environmentalist, apparently supports fuel reduction strategies. I happen to know that Flannery lost his house in a bush fire some years ago. From an environmental perspective it makes sense since more intense fires do far more destruction than less intense fires.

    I also noticed some other greens supported fuel reduction in the comments thread of the article that Barry linked us to.

    Nevertheless, the Wilderness Society policy, for example, is not real and is comprehensively refuted in a recent Australian article by Robert Underwood:,25197,25041834-7583,00.html

  21. 21 keza

    It’s obviously a complex question and I certainly don’t purport to understand enough to be able to express an informed opinion on how fire storms happen  or any detailed argument as to ‘best practice’ for preventing them. That’s a job for experts. Nevertheless, I don’t think one has to be an expert in these matters in order to be able to see that although  that in this part of Australia, fires are bound to occur, the conflagration that we’ve just seen was neither unavoidable, nor evidence of climate change. 

    Packham has claimed that the energy released by last week’s  fires “equates to the energy release of 660 Hiroshima bombs” and I read somewhere else that the radiant heat emitted reached 1200 degrees celsius.  Currently the death toll is not being regularly updated because of the fact that in some (many?) cases people were so completely incinerated.  That degree of intensity was neither just an act of god or anything to do with climate change.

    I strongly object to the widespread pushing of the idea that it should be seen as some sort of omen of what we’re in for if we don’t “stop climate change”.  We’ve had a heat wave and we’ve had the hottest day since records began, we’re also in the midst of a long lasting drought.  But none of this is abnormal enough to constitute empirical evidence for the idea that this tragedy was largely the result of climate change. The heat and the drought in Victoria are still within the normal range. In fact, I think that overall the mean summer temperature in Melbourne will not turn out to have been above average.

    This part of Australia has always been the most fire prone in the world, and it seems clear to me that the likelihood of the recent inferno was increased by the impact of green philosophy in general.   We  can’t stop bushfires occurring, but fuel reduction, the systematic creation of effective fire breaks and other forms of direct, targeted intervention in forest and bush areas, designed by experts who put people first, should be able to prevent out-of-control fire-storms.

    There is no doubt that there have been policies in place in recent decades, which have made it very difficult for people to remove trees even on their own property!  This is a direct outcome of green philosophy.  I was speaking with someone today who suggested to me that if conditions had only been slightly warmer and more windy last week, we could have seen the fires racing all the way to Canberra, wiping out parts of Melbourne on the way.  I don’t know enough to say whether he was correct, but it seems possible that  it could have been far, far worse.

    I’m not arguing that everyone with a green outlook has endorsed such lunacy, but I have no doubt that the sorts of policies toward forest and bush management which have become dominant in recent years,  are the result of the insidious creep of what I can only call nature worship.

    The accusation that people who have raised the issue of green opposition to fuel reduction are “trying to make political mileage out of a tragedy” are absurd, given that the very people making these attacks  have been opportunistically using the fires  as propoganda for their own views on global warming.  Example Bob Brown (leader of the Green Party here):

    “Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25 per cent, 50 per cent more,” he told Sky News.

    “It’s a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.”

    In fact, in the event of it being true that our climate is changing in such a way that the frequency of busfires is likely to increase, green opposition to active intervention to reduce fuel levels will seem even more irresponsible.  How can they have been making such predictions while at the same time lobbying for policies which can only make the outbreak of fire far more dangerous?

  22. 22 keza

    Here is Clive Hamilton expressing his views on Crikey today (I’m pasting it below in it’s entirety because one has to be a subscriber to Crikey to see most of the material):

    The fierce debate over the role of fuel-reduction burning in preventing bushfires has exposed a deep divide in Australia over attitudes to the natural environment.

    Over the last three or four decades the dominant attitude to the environment has shifted away from seeing the bush as hostile and in need of taming towards an understanding of it as unique and deserving protection. Instead of transforming the bush for human benefit, the new attitude privileges the natural over the modified and values biodiversity and natural areas for their own sakes. Human impacts should therefore be minimised and reflect an ethic of care rather than of domination.

    Forty years ago if you passed a snake on the road it was almost a duty to run over it because it posed a danger to humans; today that is seen as wanton killing of wildlife. Forty years ago we killed sharks that came anywhere near a beach for the same reason. Today, the father of a man taken by a shark will typically declare that he does not want the shark hunted down and nor would his son, who loved and respected the sea and its creatures.

    This huge shift has been due largely to the work of the environment movement. Landmark campaigns over the Franklin Dam, old-growth forests, the Barrier Reef and Kakadu have been victorious because they captured the public imagination and governments were compelled to act. So environmentalism has brought a sweeping and irreversible cultural change; wherever they live, most Australians now look on the landscape with new eyes.

    However, at every stage the revolution in values has met staunch resistance from those wedded to the old view. Led by an older generation of foresters, “bushies” and their political spokespersons, the old attitudes have seen a resurgence in response to the Victorian bushfires, especially over the vexed question of fuel-reduction burning.

    Those who hold to the old view believe that it reflects the true nature of the Australian bush, the one that the pioneers learned the hard way. To give their argument more authenticity they even claim that the use of prescribed burning is a continuation of the practice of Aboriginal fire-stick farming.

    The old school believes that, despite its apparent foundation in the new science of ecology, the new view is based on ignorance and softness and could be held only by latte-sipping urbanites. But increasingly marginalised, the old school’s resentment and anger has simmered, especially among those affected by restrictions on forestry and land-clearing.

    The cultural split has now boiled over under the pressures and stresses of the Victorian bushfires. The conflagration spurred those of the old school to declare that they had been right all along and that if the authorities had listened to them and taken control of the bush then the devastation could have been avoided.

    On the Tuesday after the worst of the fires former CSIRO bushfire expert David Packham launched a ferocious attack on environmentalists, blaming them for the deaths because, he said, they opposed widespread fuel-reduction burning. He wrote that the “folk of the bush have lost their battle to live a safe life in a cared-for rural and forest environment, all because of the environmental fantasies of outraged extremists and latte conservationists”.

    Packham’s attacks were carried in The Australian newspaper whose editors could immediately see the opportunity presented by the fires to extend their long-running culture war. Environmentalists had replaced communists as the principal enemy in neo-conservative demonology after fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

    Venting the rage felt by the old school, Packham followed up two days later with the claiminstigators of the much-criticised “leave early or stay and fight” policy.) that environmentalists “are behaving like eco-terrorists waging jihad against prescribed burning and fuel management”. (Packham was one of the

    On the same day, right-wing columnist and greenhouse sceptic Miranda Devine wrote that it wasn’t climate change that killed up to 300 people in Victoria but “the power of green ideology over government”. “It is not the arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts”, she fumed, “but greenies.”

    Roger Underwood, a former regional manager with the Forests Department in WA, also high-lighted the folly of environmentalist resistance to widespread fuel-reduction burning. Criticising “climate doomsdayers”, he argued that governments can be held to ransom by pressure groups such as those who oppose effective fire management in national parks.

    In 2007 Underwood had written of the wholesale destruction of remaining jarrah forests by Alcoa’s bauxite mining. Bizarrely, he did not blame this destruction on the company carrying it out. Alcoa is “an efficient and clever organisation”, he wrote, “and it is a pleasure to see the professional way in which they have approached their operational and research obligations.”

    Instead, he insisted that environmentalists are to blame for the vandalising of the jarrah forests because they failed to campaign against it. He speculated that their passivity may be because “they have been bought off”, presumably by the company whose professionalism he so admires. The immediacy and vehemence of the attacks on “greenies” over fuel-reduction burning exposes the deep vein of hatred of environmentalism that runs through segments of the community.

    In fact, no-one has argued for a blanket ban on prescribed burning. But the experts are divided on the timing and extent of it. Some fuel-reduction burns get out of control, scarring the landscape and causing unnecessary damage.

    This was cruelly illustrated by the case of Sam the koala, who last week became an emblem of the devastation in Victoria. A photograph picked up around the world showed a yellow-jacketed fire-fighter in a burnt-out forest giving a singed and shell-shocked koala a drink from his water bottle. It was a touching image of human-animal unity in the face of the terrible power of nature. The problem was that the picture had in fact been taken a few days before the inferno in the course of a fuel-reduction burn.

    It may be that the Victorian fires lead to some sort of accommodation between the old and new understandings of the Australian landscape, a merging of respect for the bush’s natural integrity with a greater respect for its dangers.

    Certainly, some tree-changers planning to leave the cities for the romance of bush-living will have pause for thought, and greens on local councils will be on the back-foot for a time. But it is hard to see any significant unwinding of four decades of environmental awakening.


    Interesting stuff, he hasn’t even been able to address the issues! Definitely on the back foot himself, as far as I can see.

  23. 23 dalec

    As one person who had lived in a very fire prone area for over 20 years and whom was involved in the local CFA I can attest that fuel reduction burning is not the universal panacea that the “green bashers” think it is. In fact in certain areas it makes the situation far worse as it dries out the ground and causes a large leaf fall from standing trees as well as forcing them into drought mode. Timing is very difficult; too early and the fuel either will not burn or the act of burning exacerbates the situation by the mechanism described above. It is one of those things that seem so obvious to the city slicker but in practice are very difficult.

    Packhams claim about 600 Hiroshima bombs is just a metaphysical fantasy I’m afraid. The energy from 600 Hiroshime bombs would lift the average atmospheric temperature by at least 1C and I doubt  if such a phenomena would go unnoticed. 

    Keza; temperature (1200C) is not a measure of energy, your gas stove flame gets to 1000C at its hottest point but has very little energy- you have to specify mass as well.

    Packham is right about some things but he does seem to be going totally overboard on the fuel reduction aspect.

    Bill “Our environment was shaped by thousands of years of aboriginal burning, which led to the predominance of eucalypts which regenerate well following fire”

    Not exactly: It was not the aboriginals fault that eucalypts predominated they have been here for many millenia precisely because they are very well fire adapted. The aboriginal burning created a more open savannah with many large trees and few small ones (read the original accounts of the explorers) the present dense closed bush was in fact created by the early settlers practice of clear fell logging – for pit props and, building materials etc. This meant that the large trees were removed; they then copppiced themselves into smaller trees and the smaller trees which  had been kept in check by the presence of the larger trees and by aboriginal burning came to dominate.

    Much of the bush that you see today is in fact dense degenerate remnants of the original bush. If you travel enough you will come across a few small pockets of bush that were never logged they are totally different from the parts that were.

    No I am not “blaming” the white settlers, they did what they had to do given the state of knowledge at the time.


  24. 24 Bill Kerr

    dalec: “Packham is right about some things but he does seem to be going totally overboard on the fuel reduction aspect.”

    I see it this way:we can’t control the weather – there will be very hot days, droughts etc., sooner or later we can’t stop fire from starting – lightning strikes, arsonists, faulty electrical equipment etc.we can’t or won’t stop people from living in the bush, it’s a free country.

    Victoria has the worst climate and vegetation in the world for bushfires — bushfires in Victoria are inevitable.

    All of the above is true and independent of the truth or falsehood of the global warming hypothesis.

    The one big thing we can realistically control is fuel supply – by controlled burning in the non fire season. This won’t stop bushfires but will make them less intense and dangerous when they do occur. It may be difficult and there may be problems, but as Packham, Cheney and co point out, it is the only realistic policy.

    Some of the relevant data from Packham is this -* the fire exclusion policy has resulted in the highest and most dangerous fuel loads for 47,000 years*, a running disaster fire intensity exceeds the maximum capability for fire fighting by between 4 and 80 times* reducing the fuels to one-quarter will reduce the areas burnt to between one quarter and one sixteenth* it will take 2 decades of effort to achieve healthy fuel levels.

    There is however no alternative except major fire disasters at the rate of one or two per hundred years* the lessons of 1926, 1939, 1944, 1965 and 2003 do not appear to have been learnt. Policies or comments that oppose this help to perpetuate a situation that leads to massive destruction of life, property and the environment.- reference

  25. 25 Steve Owens

    Bill, Is fuel load the most significant ingredient in bush fires?We can compare the deaths from bushfires where fuel reduction practices were present and where they weren’t.In the mid 1950’s fuel reduction became a significant strategy.The total number of deaths in the 6 deadly fires before the mid 1950’s was 185 people.The total number of deaths in the 6 deadly fires after and including 1955 were 197 people.The change to fire reduction strategies doesn’t seem to have made much difference.Deaths per fire1885-121889-121926-601939-711944-201952-10!955-21962-321965-31967-621969-231983-75These figures are availabe on wikipedia

  26. 26 Steve Owens

    Sorry I write it out with spaces then when it submits it scrunches up.1885- 12,  1889-12, 1926-60, 1939-71, 1944-20, 1952-10,.1955-2, 1962-32, 1965-3, 1967-62, 1969-23, 1983-75,.

  27. 27 Steve Owens

    Having looked at the figures again, if you make the assumption that although controlled burning was adopted in the mid 50’s, that it really didn’t get embraced until after the fires of 1962 then the figures pre 1962 are 219 dead in 8 fires as opposed to 177 dead in the 8 fires after 1962.One thing noticable is that deadly fires after 1955 become more frequent. Before 1955 not counting 1955 there’s 6 fires in 70 years. Not counting 1955 there are 10 fires in 50 years.In my first figures I only went up to 1983 as the Greens start to have a influence by the mid 1980’s and their influence must muddy the fuel reduction argument.

  28. 28 byork

    Opponents of controlled fuel reduction burning are way on the margins and will be resoundly defeated by voters in fire-prone shires. The Greens and the Wilderness Society are not stupid – they are lobbyists. They both claim to support it – but place conditions on it that result in or justify token efforts rather than the extensive burning that is needed.

    Here’s The Wilderness Society platform:  And the Greens (NSW): 

    The problem arises when the green outlook and influence leads shire councils to oppose the required degree of fuel reduction burning on the grounds that such burn-offs contribute to – you’ve guessed it! – global warming. Oops, I mean “climate change”. The Nillumbik Shire, for example, “believes there should be consideration of the impacts of greenhouse gas pollution produced from undertaking such burns and the possible contributions to climate change”.$File/Nillumbik+Shire+Council.pdf

    A group of concerned scientists and bush management practitioners has set up a group that, among other things, demands appropriate fuel reduction burning. It includes David Packham. The site is here and should be supported:  

    The Victorian government has stated that it burned 400,000 hectares in fuel reduction campaigns over the past three years. This sounds a lot but, as Packham points out, it is pathetically small, a mere one percent of the area requiring controlled fuel reduction burns. The government’s own parliamentary committee advocates a minimum five percent burn-off, while Packham and other scientists argue for ten percent. Max Rheese has a compelling argument published at on-line opinion:  He shows how many official inquiries have pointed to the inadequacy of fuel reduction burning programs but governments have not acted beyond tokenism designed in recent times to placate the green influence (note the small ‘g’).

    The most recent inquiry was the all party Parliamentary Environment & Natural Resources Committee Inquiry into the Impact of Public Land Management Practices on Bushfires in Victoria which tabled its report in June 2008 in the Victorian Parliament. Max writes that: “This inquiry was initiated after the public outcry over the disastrous Alpine Fires and Great Divide Fire, in 2003 and 2006 respectively that collectively burnt over two million hectares of public land. In three years, these two fires incinerated more biodiversity values than all bushfires for the previous 150 years. Many areas show no signs of recovery”.

    Yarra Ranges Shire also links it to ‘climate change’. Both Shires were severely hit by the bushfires.
    The inquiry report stated:

    On balance the Committee finds it is likely that the bushfires of 2002/03 and 2006/07 were both the result, and the most recent examples of inappropriate fire regimes. The Committee finds that an increase in prescribed burning across the landscape represents the best strategy for managing the risks that future bushfires pose to biodiversity and other natural assets …
    … The Committee finds that the frequency and extent of prescribed burning has been insufficient over a number of decades, for the preservation of ecological processes and biodiversity across the public land estate. An increase in the extent and frequency of prescribed burning for the enhancement of environmental values should therefore be a priority for the Department of Sustainability and Environment and its partner agencies.

    People are rightly getting fed up with the Nature worshipping ideologues who won’t support the required levels of fuel reduction burn-offs. I saw a meeting on TV the other night and the locals had no time at all for the guy who tried to link it to ‘climate change’. We need to learn from those who not just live in these fire-prone areas but live and work there. They are fed up and will become angrier as part of the grieving process.

  29. 29 patrickm

    Sorry Steve but I can’t see those figures as anything other than meaningless. The fact that fuel reduction goes on in some places tells one nothing about who dies where and why.
    The question is more about fleeing and /or sheltering out of reach of the flame front and the ability to defend structures under ember attack and then sheltering for the brief period of the fire fronts passage and then promptly rejoining the fight to save the dwelling. Let me explain.
    A good house will be solid against an ember attack but even a good house solid against an ember attack is going to burn to the ground if left to itself. People have to be able to defend their house. Younger populations are better at that. Australia has an ageing population. My bet is that older people and younger people will figure higher in the statistics as will women. My second bet is that few that died had training or real experience and the more training the less they will appear in the statistics.
    I reckon that people who know they are on their own suffer far fewer delusions than people who watch ‘Elvis’ style toys (that the TV always focus on these days) and think that they are important and will come to the rescue. They are not important in any big fire and they won’t come. Essentially no one will.
    The best house I saw built in a bushfire area was built by a fireman. It had a decking roof with heavily insulated racked ceilings solid face brick inside and out slate floor lawns around it a brick fence back from that and then the drive way out front of that and a swimming pool in front ready to be pumped dry.
    It was kept fire ready by a professional. It was easily defendable under the most extreme ember attack. It was back from the flame zone though his property even had a couple of acres of firewood lot plantings. This guy was infected with a ton of general green ideas BUT not any delusions whatever about what fuel near houses meant.
    He was also smart about making his house and its defensive perimeter ‘moist’ space. There was nothing high and dry anywhere near that could send a flame front directly onto the defenders who would have been protecting the house under the said intense ember attack. I would trust my family in such a dwelling and I bet that such a house is not where the 300 bodies will be located in this fire. No one in there right mind would flee from such a dwelling in any bush fire and take to the tree lined roads.
    IMV over the last few decades people became infected with green philosophy without the professional knowledge that this man applied to his housing environment. You see ignorance on the TV in every fire. People out without shoes and long pants and long shirts and hats trying to fight but just not dressed like the firemen that turn out! The answer is very simple dress like a fireman. Fight the fire like a fireman. Prepare the property like a fireman. Build the house and its defensive perimeter like a fireman. Maintain the house like a fireman. And like all the firemen in Victoria last weak survive like a fireman.
    Firemen do not loose their life or their house in these situations; they loose their life because they sometime get caught in a strange place where something goes wrong.
    The only way to work out what happened to these 300 people and the 2000 odd houses is one by one analysis. Then reflect on the philosophy of why the dwelling they died in was the way it was. Why they were fleeing on tree lined roads. What would a fireman have done differently that day that weak prior and in the previous cool weather.
    People died because they were not ‘at war’ with fire last winter and they were caught by the enemy in a surprise attack.
    Everybody knows the enemy will attack again. Those whose philosophy is sound will in the main survive. Fires under these conditions can’t be last minute back burnt. The fuel just can’t be there in the first instance. Greens that spent there time in the cool putting more fuel near houses have to change their philosophy.

  30. 30 byork

    The following are David Packham’s submissions to Victorian Bushfire Inquiries in 2002 and 2003:   Scroll down to the 2003 Submission and check out the point form section on Victorian bushfires and fire management. I’ve been taking notes from various readings on this topic and came across the relevant information that if the amount of fuel in a forest is doubled then the fire’s spread will be doubled – but, its intensity will be quadrupled. (Unfortunately, I didn’t note the source for this but it is probably Packham).

  31. 31 dalec

    David Packham asserts (in the reference cited by Billl Kerr) that the fires of 2003 were the equivalent of  50,000 Hiroshima bombs. This is the reseult of ONE Hiroshima bomb” An ultra high pressure was generated by the explosion. The wind velocity on the ground beneath the explosion center was 980 miles/hr, which is five times stronger than the wind generated by strong hurricanes. The pressure was 3.5 kg per square centi-meter which is equivalent to 8,600 pound per square feet.” single Hiroshima bomb resulted in the deaths of 60,000 people. The guy is a total nut case.Dalec

  32. 32 Bill Kerr

    hi steve,

    After the 1939 fire, Royal Commissioner Stretton recommended fuel reduction but I think this has since been consistently fudged. Read the Max Rheese article that Barry linked to.There are other reasons, apart from misguided but influential green thinking (but not all greens) why this might be the case:

    (1) Regular fuel reduction is expensive

    (2) Regular fuel reduction is often unpopular because of smoke, ugliness and messiness (still true before the rise of a Green political movement)

    (3) Because these disasters are irregular and many people have short memories it is politically possible for governments to avoid reality and get away with it. Government and media tend to present them as unavoidable tragedies.

    (4) Many people have a poor understanding of the issue and the laws of probability – you may live your whole life in a house which cannot be defended from bushfires and yet be lucky enough to not suffer. Hence consistent pressure from below is not applied to solve the problem and implement Stretton’s 1939 advice.

    (5) Control of these matters needs to be in the hands of a centralised, expert land management authority with real power and not in the hands of local emergency or fire management authorities.

    Your figures don’t mean much unless you also demonstrate that fuel reduction has been carried out to the level suggested by David Packham: “Fuels build up year after year at an approximate rate of one tonne a hectare a year, up to a maximum of about 30 tonnes a hectare. If the fuels exceed about eight tonnes a hectare, disastrous fires can and will occur. Every objective analysis of the dynamics of fuel and fire concludes that unless the fuels are maintained at near the levels that our indigenous stewards of the land achieved, then we will have unhealthy and unsafe forests that from time to time will generate disasters such as the one that erupted on saturday.”,25197,25031389-7583,00.html

  33. 33 Bill Kerr

    Dalec disputes David Packhams Hiroshima bomb equivalence calculations. I did some calculations based on the Victorian fires and found that Packham seems to be roughly correct. I obtained the figure of 522 Hiroshima bomb equivalents compared to Packham’s estimate of 660.Here are my figures:David Packham:More than 330,000 hectares were destroyed in Victoria’s “hell on earth” bushfires and according to Mr Packham each hectare contained 30 tons of bushfire fuel — adding up to 9.9m tons.”That equates to the energy release of 660 Hiroshima bombs,” he said. of Hiroshima Bomb: 1 Hiroshima Bomb is roughly 20 Kilotons TNTEquivalents of 1 Kiloton of TNT: 1 Kiloton TNT equals 10^12 gram-calories. 1 Kiloton TNT equals 1.15 x 10^6 Kilowatt-hours. KT means Kiloton. freshly cut tree has even higher moisture content, often above 60%. Similar calculations show that this fresh wood has only 2000 Btu/pound of energy available. Btu (thermochemical) = 0.00029287508333 kilowatt-hours pound = 0.00045359237 ton (metric) wood burns to create 2000 Btu/pound To convert to Kilowatt-hours / ton then multiply by 0.00029287508333 and divide by 0.00045359237Fresh wood burns to create roughly 1333 kilowatt-hours / ton (rounded)For 9 million tons burnt –> 9 * 10^6 * 1333 kilowatt-hours energy = VB (victorian bushfires)1 Hiroshima bomb = 20 * 1.15 x 10^6 Kilowatt-hours = HB (Hiroshima bomb)To calculate Hiroshima bomb equivalents divide VB by HB = 522 Hiroshima bomb equivalents

  34. 34 Arthur

    Its a side issue, but David Packham’s crude guess that the heat from 40 MT of fuel burned in bushfire is similar to that from 40 MT of nuclear explosion (3000 times Hiroshima’s 13 kT of TNT equivalent) could be an underestimate.

    About half of nuclear explosion goes into heat, energy density of TNT is about 6.1 MJ/kg, gross energy for combustion of wood is about 15 MJ/kg. More precise calculation could go either way (perhaps 600 Hiroshimas would be more accurate).

    Earlier Dalek claimed that “The energy from 600 Hiroshime bombs would lift the average atmospheric temperature by at least 1C and I doubt  if such a phenomena would go unnoticed.”

    In fact there have been many atmospheric tests individually larger than 600 Hiroshima bombs without any such phenoma being noticed.This sheds light on two things:

    1. Dalek didn’t bother to read Packham or make any calculations whatever or even pause for thought, but simply plucked the figure of 1C out of thin air based on his own intuitions as to how fragile and easily changed the planet is and his usual glib resort to “scientific” bluster and dismissal of opponents as nutcases.

    2. Dalek’s intuitions as to how fragile and easily changed the planet is are hopelessly unrelated to reality and typical of what lies behind climate alarmism.

    Interestingly Dalek warns that it would be terribly difficult to do more fuel reduction burning, but imagines replacing forests dominated by fire weeds (eucalypts) with less dangerous exotics might be easier. Both should be looked at seriously, ignoring whether people like Dalek support or oppose them. But its interesting to note how consistently conservatives see great difficulties in making socioeconomic and cultural changes that are obviously necessary for human progress, while at the same time viewing the world of nature as quite easily changed.  

    On the substantive issues, I’m struck by this quote of Packham’s from Cheney citing a former fire agency CEO:

    “Why should I carry out prescribed burning? All I get is criticism about smoke and destruction of habitat and biodiversity and my staff are vilified by people who know nothing of fire suppression and don’t care a fig about managing the forests. I (personally) would be better off to let the fuels accumulate, have larger wildfires and have my people hailed as heroes.”

    Focus of discussion should be on these sort of institutional issues and their connection with a dysfunctional social system rather than correct policy for fire reduction.

    Take it for granted that there will be people with either ideological or vested material interests in opposing correct policies. Doesn’t matter whether it is green or other religious movements not wishing to interfere with “mother nature”, or developers or home builders anxious to contain costs and ignore risks.

    Any collective social function has to be performed by people who put collective interests first and not by people who put their personal interests first and are therefore unwilling to stand against factional interests (whether minority or majority).

    This should obviously apply to fire agencies but also to all agencies and industries.

    Under capitalism it doesn’t and cannot. So we need to move forward from capitalism.

  35. 35 dalec

    Arthur and Bill, if you bothered to read Packhams submissions you would find that he has two numbers. His major assertion in the references given, is that the fires of 2003 were the equivalent to 50,000. Repeat 50,000 Hiroshima bombs. Repeat 50,000 Hiroshima bombsNow re-do your calculations.Dalec. 

  36. 36 melaleuca

    Interesting discussion, guys. I consider myself Green but also moderate and pragmatic.  I’ve planted about 1,000 native plants on my acreage in central Victoria thus far but I’m well aware of the risk of fire in my area. My neighbours tell me they’ve seen 3 fires in my road in 30 years. I have a buffer of pebbles that extends for about 10 metres on all sides of my house but I’ve also got 30 odd gum trees within 30 metres of the house, which in light of the recent bushfires I think are too close. I phoned the Mt Alexander Shire today and was told the current policy is that I am only allowed to clear native vegetaion within 10 metres of the house. The state Department of Sustatinability and the Environment needs to approve any such clearance as well as the local council. I was told the shire will now “review” its policies as a result of the recent bushfires but DSE will also need to instigate a policy review.It will cost me $100 to lodge a planning permit with the shire and I’ll also need to submit an arborist’s report at my own expense.  Should I submit a permit and fork out maybe $200 or simply cut the tress down? Mmmm.

  37. 37 Arthur

    Cut them down. It’s still bushfire season.

  38. 38 Arthur

    Dalek, Packham’s supplementary submission dated 1 June 2003 unambiguously refers to 3,000 Hiroshima equivalents.Your fatuous remarks equally unambiguously refer to 600 and your inability to respond to comprehensive refutation is merely highlighted.

  39. 39 keza


    I agree with Arthur: cut ’em down!

    They may try to fine you, but I reckon not.   There must be lots of people who no longer feel safe and want to do something about it.  

    To me it’s absolutely outrageous that the authorities think that they can tell you what to do on your own property.   (Whatever happened to bourgeois property rights!! )

    I’d hope to see a developing movement to resist this whole situation. Some sort of organisation is crying out to be formed.   I also think that there are plenty of “pragmatic Greens” (as you describe yourself)  who would take part.

  40. 40 melaleuca

    “To me it’s absolutely outrageous that the authorities think that they can tell you what to do on your own property. “Well there has to be a balance, since what I do on my property has wider ramifications.  For example if I build a dam on my property it will reduce catchment flows and reservoir storage levels. This has become a major issue in rural Victoria with the proliferation of private dams reducing reservoir storages by 30% or more according to some estimates.But I’ll certainly be hacking down those trees with a chainsaw since in the present climate a prosecution is highly unlikely. And if it does happen, I’m happy to be a test case by challenging it in court  🙂

  41. 41 Steve Owens

    Bill and Patrick you can’t see any meaning in the figures I produced.I can’t see anything but meaning.Take the big number. About 400 people died in bushfires in a period of over 100 years.As causes of death bushfire ranks pretty low. A decade can go past without a bushfire fatality as it did in the 1970’s.I think that people understand this and it underlies a lot of our behaviour.
    Packham argues that we should adopt expensive fuel reduction programmes to save lives. I bet that officials although they wouldn’t say so measure the expense against the “small” number of lives saved and quietly shelve fuel reduction plans. Hell officials are loath to adopt quite cheap measures that would save lives.
    Patrick your firefighting mate is a fanatic, you can’t pitch public policy at the fanatic level but at what the average joe is willing to do. Here again people realise that of the hundreds of thousands  that live in the bush most are aware that their chances of dieing in a bushfire is low. Plus people always think that the worst will happen to someone else.
    Back to the figures, what I was trying to point out was that we have four eras of land management. One aboriginal firestick era, two the let things grow era of the early colonists, three where fuel reduction was practiced and four where the fuel reduction practices were undermined by the Greens. We don’t know the death toll from the first era but we do for the other 3. What the statistics show is that the death rate remains low in all eras punctuated by extreme events such as 1926, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1983 and 2009. All these event claimed more than 30 lives.PS Dalek what you got from Arthur is what an apology looks like at this site you should thank him and move on.

  42. 42 Arthur

    Melaleuca, your “balanced” view is certainly more Marxist than keza’s outrage at authorities telling people what they can do on private property 😉

    Likewise challenging them (with a chainsaw) when they try to tell people to arbitrarily force people to risk their lives and homes is entirely balanced and reasonable. You would be an ideal test case, to show them up but I doubt they would be stupid enough to take you on.They will just retreat from forcing people to not do obviously essential fuel reduction around homes to Steve’s approach of balancing the cost of more extensive fuel reduction against the value of occasional lives lost. Seems bloody obvious that the costs of fuel reduction to prevent whole towns being destroyed is worth it, even if the cost for state wide fuel reduction isn’t since it merely prevents massive environmental destruction that isn’t really as important to greens as their distaste for people, and preference for letting nature take its course.

    Also seems obvious that even adequately protecting towns won’t happen unless people like Clive Hamilton are thoroughly defeated politically. He seems to have stepped forward as an ideal target. The quote keza provided from him in this thread should be widely highlighted to personalize it by holding him and others who are carrying out the strategy he is calling for, personally responsible for the destruction they have caused , and will continue to cause unless prevented.

  43. 43 melaleuca

    Well let me again present a “reasonable and balanced” viewpoint- the environment down here in SE Australia has changed dramatically for whatever reason over the past 12 years. Steve Owens is right in pointing out that bush fires have never in the past been a major cause of mortality in Oz, but the ball game has now changed enormously. Much of Victoria has lost more than a quarter of its rainfall and temps are way up, so areas like Marysville that were once reasonably wet forest and therefore unlikely to experience major fires are now obviously death traps.  Major policy changes are needed now otherwise we’ll see more huge bush fires and major loss of life.More resources will have to be put into fuel reduction burns but these are not as simple as some people here seem to think. Often burns that should be done will not be done because of factors like strong winds or very low humidity on the day of a planned burn.

  44. 44 Steve Owens

    Melaleuca, I think you should cut the trees back to whatever distance you feel comfortable with, then add the councils 10 meters. As to conditions being different, well the current fire has burnt 450,000+ hectares. The 1939 fire burnt 2 million hectares. Conditions must have been pretty bad then too.

  45. 45 Steve Owens

    Patrick I think your post about your firefighter friend underlines some of my thoughts on the matter. Its a question of what would save more lives spending money on fuel reduction or spending money on at risk individuals and communities fire plans. Of course its a combination of both (or maybe there are those that think not). When I read about fire deaths what strikes me is the number of people caught in the open, or in their cars or in homes that are death traps. These people are the victims of poor planning as much as bush fires. These mega fires which we occationally see might need a different approach and I don’t think we can exclude Meleuca’s idea that we have entered a new climate era.OK my point, We need to see how much is going to be spent protecting people, then we need to argue about what strategy will give the best return.As to comments like Kevin Rudd’s who vowed to rebuild some burnt out town. My thought is hey wait on we should first decide if this death trap is worth rebuilding.

  46. 46 Steve Owens

    Melaleuca, Just some thoughts on your weather change idea. All the mega fires so far 1939. 1944, 1962, 1969, 1983 and now 2009 have occurred during periods of extended drought.
    Has anyone seen an estimate for the cost of Packham’s extensive fuel reduction scheme? or for that matter an estimate for building bunkers or for fire proofing homes?

  47. 47 Barry

    Don’t forget Victoria’s ‘Black Thursday’ on 6th February in 1851 – severe drought conditions, gale winds, a temperature of 47 degrees centigrade. And five million hectares destroyed (that’s about a quarter of the State’s area).  

  48. 48 Steve Owens

    Bill, do you have any info about the relationship between fuel reduction and ember storms. That fuel reduction will reduce fire intensity I have no argument with. However I read that most houses are destroyed by ember storms which I assume are more related to wind strength than radiant heat. Patrick I’m told that during a bushfire the Country Fire Service has first call on water. I’m told that people relying on their swimming pool as their water source can be left without water when the CFS turn up and drain it. No point in arguing about property rights then.

  49. 49 Bill Kerr

    hi steve,From my reading the main advantage of fuel reduction is that it makes it far easier to control the fires in a general sense. But of course fuel reduction on properties is going to increase chances of your house surviving as illustrated by the case of Liam Sheahan  who was fined $50,000 for chopping down 247 trees on his property but his house was the only one to survive in the vicinity. I have a picture of Marysville (“the town that died”) before the fires from The Advertiser (Feb 14). There are many, many trees throughout the town, close to houses.General advantages of fuel reduction:

    fire crews have more time to reach the fire
    spread of fire is reduced since a ground fire does not turn into a crown fire
    fire crews can attack the front more quickly rather than work on the flanks
    fire crews can work closer to the fire safely
    back burning is more productive (note that Victorian fires are still dangerous because back burning with current fuel levels is not sufficient)
    reduces fire escapes over the control lines
    overall enhancement of fire crew safety

    Norman Endacott’s submission to 2003 Victorian Bushfires InquiryAnother one worth looking at is when prescribed burning in WA got out of control due to the early arrival of Cyclone Alby in 1978. They found that these fires were readily contained once the fire ran into areas burnt under prescribed mild conditions in previous years (source)

  50. 50 Steve Owens

    Bill, I think that Mr Endacott’s paper raises some of my questions.Right at the beginning he refers to the period from the 1950s to the early 80’s as a period where “…. much success was achieved.” My reading of this is that he’s saying that this period was a period where we had it right. It’s also a period where we had 6 deadly fires which claimed 197 lives which returns me to my original observation that the preceding 6 deadly fires killed 185 people. This was my original point.Either fuel reduction was the number one strategy in the 50’s to 80’s or it wasn’t. Mr Endacott says it was. He also says it was done quite cheaply, Mr. Packham says that done properly it will be expensive.

  51. 51 melaleuca

    You also need to remember that the 1950s to the 1980s was much wetter and cooler than the last 12 years in SE Australia. That meant places like Marysville were in wet forest and therefore *relatively* safe for that reason alone. I doubt they had more extensive fuel reduction burns in that period but no doubt the RC will comment on that.. But 12 years of drought and high temps changed a relatively safe situation to an extremely dangerous one.

  52. 52 Steve Owens

    Hi Bill, The Cyclone Alby fires are very interesting. If you look up the Bureau of Meteorology you will find that the fires were mainly burn off fires ie controlled burns that got out of controll when the cyclone unexpectedly turned inland.Secondly the towns were not saved by previous fuel reduction but in the words of the Bureau “Light rain and a drop in the wind in the evening possibly saved the towns of Donnybrook, Boyu Brook, Manjimup, and Bridgetown.”On another aspect I completely agree with you that councils are criminal if they put people at risk by discouraging fire safety measures. I am not disputing the idea that controlled burns are a strategic option I just want to see the evidence that controlled burns are more effective than evacuation or fire proofing houses or bunkers or whatever strategy comes to the fore.melaleuca the Ash Wednesday fire in 1983 came at the end of a drought so I dont know if you could describe it as much wetter. The times were cooler, trust me fashion has gone nowhere since 1983.

  53. 53 melaleuca

    “melaleuca the Ash Wednesday fire in 1983 came at the end of a drought so I dont know if you could describe it as much wetter.”Yes but not a 12 year drought.

  54. 54 Steve Owens

    Hi Bill Just thought that I would stress a point coming from the article that you linked to. It’s in the link marked “source” At the bottom of the article it acknowledges that of the 90 fires that made up the Cyclone Alby bushfire, 74 were controlled burns that went out of control.

  55. 55 Steve Owens

    Bill if it helps the web page I was looking at is BOM-Australian Climate Extremes-FireSorry about no link Ive tried several times but just can’t get it to work.

  56. 56 patrickm

    Steve when you say ‘I just want to see the evidence that controlled burns are more effective than evacuation or fire proofing houses or bunkers or whatever strategy comes to the fore.’ I think you miss the real issues that confront us. I think your approach muddles everything together and makes it then impossible to sort out the resultant mess. The evidence that you sensibly seek will not be so easy to get hold of because every approach that is well founded and well executed in its practice will have worked, and every approach that had a flaw built in, or a flaw that emerges over time (things change) will have been or get found out at some point. Comparing apples for apples will always be the difficulty for you.

    ‘Fire proofing’ houses is only a cost question (though making things fool proof always remains out of reach because fools are so ingenious) but obviously the costs become exorbitant. Brand new houses are cheaper to build than retro fitting work etc. ‘Bunker’ retreats come in all manner of ways that will all work.
    The real question is how do you build cost efficient housing that has a reasonable prospect of being defended after ten years of habitation when temperatures hit 47c and the wind is at gale force, and a fire has broken out 100metres away to windward as the local electricity transformer exploded?
    The truth is that if there is a high fuel load of unrestrained forest dimensions that house is history in very short order unless it has a massive automated fire suppression sprinkler system with some uninterrupted power source, and or ‘unlimited’ water available at high enough pressure.
    If the house is surrounded by fifty metres of lawns and succulent ground covers and the like, and there is someone home who knows how to fight the fire and can respond in minutes (because the conditions had already brought on a stand to alert level of preparation with nothing around that can burn, gutters full of water, property already being hosed down etc) the conventional house could then be saved by a hand operated backpack of water sprayed on any ember attack problems that develop.
    That particular theoretical fire will go on to kill many other people no doubt but not anyone in that house.
    On the other hand that house will probably / possibly burn down if the fire threat level was low enough that day to not cause the fire plan to be put in practice and everyone had instead gone out shopping.
    Government can ensure that people provide themselves with a retreat / shelter / bunker that can’t be engulfed by fire and they can survive, and that requires that people keep all fuels away from the shelter! Hell even people that got caught on the roads during this last killer fire saved themselves by crawling into storm water culverts and waiting. Total devastation outside but survival under the road!
    The well founded fire resistant designed house (that’s well maintained and well prepared and is being actively and knowledgeably defended from within is the best ‘shelter’ because the fire front must pass the house before that house could be lost and thereby force the occupants to seek the shelter of the already burnt areas outside. But even that situation can change somewhat if the houses are infernos on either side and they are ‘close’. (If they are close you might be better off saving all the houses rather than over saving ‘your very well prepared house’ in the middle.)

    Fighting a bushfire is done as a series of fronts that attack the defenders and all of these fronts have possible flanking moves if the wind changes, and thus one type of front can rapidly turn into another, so obviously proximity to the neighbors fuel load is very important and has to form part of the ‘battle’ plan.
    The length of time you can stay in the fight in front of the structure / s before staging a temporary retreat, and the quicker you can return to the fight after the flame front has passed is the key to winning the battle to save that structure / s and any lives that are associated. This is not ‘rocket science’. Fire requires fuel, heat and oxygen; that’s it. Obviously fuel load is the one issue that can be controlled before the fire starts or even as it approaches. Once the flame front is prevented from igniting the structures the ember attack that will come can be addressed.
    Three areas of preparation are the keys to how well fire suppression can be achieved but remember with suppression ‘you have to be in it to win it’.

    It is fuel load that literally enables the flame front to approach the defender and keeps that front going longer and harder when it arrives. Fuel reduction can keep the fire fighter in front of the structure and in total control, or if insufficient to do that enable a briefer retreat in the face of it. Most fires are ‘easily’ beaten by moderately trained able bodied adults because they are not driven by strong winds so the flame front can be directly attacked and kept at bay (and because of the moderate wind conditions the heat, smoke and ember fronts are all minor annoyances to the defender rather than major threats in themselves). Killer bushfires can’t be fought at the flame front.
    Preparation of Structures.
    Structure preparation ought to be appropriate to the season and the level of threat the day actually presents. Most fire plans are not ‘audited’ in any detail on site to start with; and or fully implemented on the day they get implemented. Most plans ‘fail’ under extreme test even when houses are saved with people losing cars etc..
    Many people who are intending to fight actually remain passive as the killer day unfolds, all the way from the night before when steady ongoing work would yield very good results. If work takes you away from the house then the plan has to cope with this reality; who is going to be available to fight and on the very rare killer days when the wind is predicted, ought not work away from home be forgone in these types of regions?
    Available fire fighters.
    It’s their training and experience (always being self adjusted for health and age factors) that counts. When the first super heated winds from the approaching fire hits, the fire fighter has to be dressed and ready and turning the hose on himself. The structure has been wetted down and only now you’re wetting everything else around you as the noise level gets really scary, but you’re still outside and you’re keeping your firefighting clothes wet and you’re thinking cool. Then the smoke hits, and you have to drop to your knee and sometimes lower and prepare to lift your mask that you’re already wearing around your neck and then move closer to the structure (while always keeping out of radiant heat).
    Most attention is now reserved for the structure because next comes the embers that the fighter is there to fight in the first place, this is when it gets worse and worse and will definitely scare the crap out of people that have never been through it. It’s scary enough when you have been!
    Only then, some variable time later, the flame front hits and at this point the fighter must retreat and be sheltered even if only on the lee side of the house just squirting water around the corner. BUT the front will pass quickly enough with that sort of wind driving it. (Always keeping in mind a front change from swirling winds and the all important situation with the neighbours fuel load proximity).
    Fuel loads are the key. If they are low enough the fighter can stay close to the ground continuously suppressing embers until the flame front passes on the flanks. This long story is all about the relationship between fuel reduction and ember storms. It is vital to reduce fire intensity so that the ember fight can be fought and won.
    BTW yes ‘the Country Fire Service has first call on water.’ And they will probably use it the most efficiently if they come for it, but they are unlikely to save another person’s house with your water and then lose your house, so though it could happen I’m not concerned about that. They will not confiscate your bathtub full of water and or your hand operated back packs that ought to, in these conditions, be ready.
    Anyway more of these issues will come up as this ‘fire’ is reflected on but it always turns into one fire after another analysis rather than one size fits all ‘because it was such a terrible day’. Blaming the conditions is wrong from the start. The knowledge was around and the warnings were given. Those that really put enough effort into the totality of the problem won the fight when it inevitably came.
    Meanwhile green philosophy is as guilty in leading people to an untimely death in this instance just as much as their DDT scare-mongering has been guilty of massive deaths from Malaria all around the world.
    The fact that some of them advocate various levels of fuel reduction burning (like Flannery who had had the experience of losing a house to bush fire) is no excuse for not sheeting home the damage that this philosophy does across the whole spectrum of fire fighting issues. The philosophy has led to meddling in others lives with laws that restrict freedoms rather than expand them. These green ideas are enemy ideas for the left and as with the hysterics over carbon they do not stand up to a good fire. You will not find anyone immersed in green philosophy producing books that proclaim a Bright Future of abundance like Dave has. Instead when it comes to water and turning our houses into wetter environments by supplying ever cheaper water for example, the enemy philosophy seeks to hinder the work and advocates only planting natives that are suited to the particular dry summer climate.
    I think the RC will not place enough focus ‘on green policies that lead to insufficient ground fuel burn off and prevented people from clearing trees from around their houses.’
    I agree ‘that greeny ideas are nutty and downright toxic’ and we should tear into them on every occasion and not let them slither away from their responsibilities.

    The death toll is ‘a matter of failing to avoid their [fires] wrath.’  Standards ought to be improving but were not because people were misled en masse with green junk philosophy for decades, yet having for all these decades been wrong the leading spokespeople immediately covered their own culpability with endless twaddle about how it will all get worse if we don’t address climate change. They are wrong!

    Communists need to focus working peoples attention on the immediate danger that green philosophy and politics is, not just to peoples livelihood, which is now clear with their incessant clamoring for carbon taxing and so forth, but also their actual lives, as it has always been in the third world and in strategic tyrannies, and now is demonstrated here in our advanced industrialized country with this death toll.
    Devine and Bolt are clearly on the correct side of the ledger on yet another issue but they have to be hindered from claiming this pseudoleft phenomenon as anything to do with a left philosophy or politics.

    The strange times we are living through must be more loudly proclaimed.

  57. 57 melaleuca

    “Meanwhile green philosophy is as guilty in leading people to an untimely death in this instance just as much as their DDT scare-mongering has been guilty of massive deaths from Malaria all around the world.”Can you back up your DDT claim with a couple of case studies.Also you are being simplistic about “green philosophy”. There are plenty of moderate, pragmatic greens out there, such as myself, who have no time whatsoever for the idealistic boofhead extremism associated with groups like Greenpeace.

  58. 58 melaleuca

    Does anyone know why my paragraph breaks disappear? Thanks guys.

  59. 59 Steve Owens

    I don’t know about the paragraph breaks but it happens to all my posts as well.

    Patrick fuel reduction strategies have got a lot of support at this site. However an expert was cited who said that done properly it would be expensive. Another expert was cited who said that fuel reduction was the main pillar of firefighting between the 1950’s to the mid 1980’s and that it was successful and cheap.

    The first expert said that Western Australia was doing it well and Bill linked to an article that praised fuel reduction as important in the Cyclone Alby fires.

    My contribution is to ask how can fuel reduction be both cheap and expensive? Why if it was practiced during the period 1950 to 1985 did we see an increase in the number of deadly fires and an increase in the total deaths during this period? How can we hold up the Cyclone Alby fires as a model when these fires were started by people practicing fuel reduction and put out by rain rather than by previous fuel reduction? (the article Bill linked to forgot to mention the rain)

  60. 60 patrickm

    Steve and melaleuca the problem can be overcome by typing in GMail and cut and pasting from there.  Don’t do it from Word (it turns to mush), but you can post from word into Gmail compose and then paste from there!  That’s how I will do this, and I habitually put in 2 paragraph breaks.

    BTW Steve; my acquaintance ‘Jamo’ is in no way a fanatic.  He is just an expert as a result of a lifetime of employment in the fire fighting business; he chose to live in a high risk area and built accordingly.  Naturally it showed up in his design and fire plan.  Everybody in these regions, are supposed to have a fire plan.  His was being ‘audited’ by an expert.  His had a lifetime of experience built into it and others can’t have that, but they can change their philosophy.  Changing peoples faulty philosophy is what will save their lives.

    You are right when you say ‘people are the victims of poor planning as much as bush fires.’ But killer fires are nothing new and surviving a worse case fire is what a plan ought to be based on in the first instance!  Sure, spending money will save some people from the big fires when they hit, but changing people and empowering them will save a lot more.  This society is breeding passive victims that the authorities then have to control and manage. 

    “Cast aside illusions; prepare yourself and other people for struggle” seams like the right approach to me.As for towns in the forests, I think they can be built and survive very bad fires but they can’t be built in the old greeny manner and survive.  That argument is dead in my view .You ask ‘how can fuel reduction be both cheap and expensive?’  I suppose the answer is that if one is going to do the bush as a whole and keep the environment in good shape then it will be expensive.  But if you are just going to do it near structures then it will be cheaper.  As for the rest, I really don’t think that tumbling around with very broad statistics will tell you much at all.  There are far to many variables. 

    The key to understanding the issue IMV is mostly case by case analysis.  In the end though the issue is about fire and how one prepares for and fights it and that is clearly a fuel question connected to a source of ignition in the presence of oxygen; that is the triangle that I was taught and it has stood me in good stead to always remove one of those to kill a fire.

  61. 61 patrickm

    Well it worked last time!!!!

  62. 62 patrickm

    Oh and Mel, try this from just one Google of – UN and DDT

  63. 63 Steve Owens

    Hi Patrick I was not trying to denegrate Jamo I would expect any specialisdt in an area to be fanatical about that area.
    Look it’s fine to argue that whats needed is fire breaks around towns and decent fire plans but thats not what Packham is saying and his views were getting a lot of positive comment at this site.

  64. 64 keza

    The problem with paragraph breaks is due to a bug in our text editor. I’m trying to find a solution.

    I could just get rid of the text editor,  but that would require contributors to know some elementary html if they want to post (clickable) links. They’s also need to know how to use html to doa few other things, including paragraph breaks.   Many blogs do expect this from their contributors, but I’m of the view that we should try to make link-posting (and formatting of posts) as simple as possible.

    I plan to upgrade the site to the most recent version of WP as soon as I can get someone to help me and that may solve the problem.  There are also some other options which I’m looking into, including another text editor altogether (but that has some problems of its own).

    I don’t recommend using Word – ever. Patrick! Writing stuff in Word and then (a) pasting it into gmail  (or anywhere else) and (b) pasting it into the comment box, will not get rid of the hidden garbage which comes from Word and tends to “upset” WordPress.  If you’ve written something in Word, the only sure way to get rid of the garbage is to paste it into something like WordPad (which will turn it into plain text…and remove all formatting).

    We will just need to put up with the paragraph-breaks problems a bit longer. I’ll endeavour to fix long unparagraphed posts on a (more) regular basis in the interim.  Unfortunately I’m away at the moment and don’t have as much internet access as I’m used to, but I’ll do my best.

    Hopefully once I’m back home, I’ll get this thing sorted out….

  65. 65 anita

    This is the third time I’ve tried to submit this luckily one-liner. I take it this is because I have failed to realise that a CAPTCHA code is required in order to submit now?)Not stopping myself from one-lining. George,George,George Of The Jungle-Watchoutforthatree!

  66. 66 keza


    Yes, I installed a catchpa plug-in because we were having problems with spammers.  Although “Aksimet Spam” was catching most of them, there were so many that it had become quite time-consuming for me to check through all the spammed material in order to rescue any legitimate comments which had been wrongly identified as spam.  And on top of this, the spammers were filling out the registration form and becoming “users” of the site. So I was having to regularly go through the list of users and try to work out who as legitimate and who wasn’t.  

    It’s now clear that almost all of this activity was  being performed by robots…after I installled the catchpa software the amount of spam (and the influx of new “users”) was immediately reduced by about 95%.

    So..although it may be an inconvenience to have to type some letters in a box in order to post a comment, it has made things a lot easier for me.

  67. 67 melaleuca

    PatrickM your link doesn’t back up your horror story about DDT fear mongering causing deaths.  The major environment group cited in your link is WWF, which supported the DDT malaria exemption in the UN POPs as per the IPEN platform.  Surely you are aware of that.

  68. 68 Steve Owens

    Ms Fran Kelly on the Radio National breakfast programme interviewed a bloke who has rebuilt after the Canberra fires. His fire resistant home basically a concrete block with steel window shutters “only” cost about double the cost of a normal house. Everyone else in his street has replaced their homes with normal housing. A comment was made that most people will only meet the minimum requirements of safety regulations which brings me back to my earlier point that at some level people are aware that death through bushfire is an unlikely outcome and therefor our collective slack attitude which surely will return in a couple of months. (as it has so often in the past) 

  69. 69 davidmc

    Max Rheese of the AEF has a good piece on the bushfires over at On Line Opinion. I particularly like this bit about the town of Barmah:  “Without any response by the start of summer, the community collectively purchased 35 cattle and illegally drove them into the forest to reduce the fuel load.”

  70. 70 Barry

    This sensible article in The Australian (1st January 2010) argues that “Last year’s Victoria fires led to demands to reassess a number of established practices: the leave or stay-and-defend policy; the question of controlled burning and fuel-load reduction; and the green environmental policies that have encouraged and even mandated the planting of eucalypts in rural and semi-rural areas. But if we really want to reduce the fire threat, perhaps we need to ask some even more basic questions. Is the eucalypt the right tree for rural dwellings, the urban fringe and semi-settled areas?”

    What will be interesting is the green response that thinks only native trees should be planted, as Gaia would want, lest the universe collapses.

  71. 71 tom

    my understanding is that eucalypts are not the only native trees but rather they wiped out most off the other native trees.

  72. 72 dalec

    Over 20 years ago I suggested to a meeting of Greens that we build gigantic mulching machines and chew up great swathes of the eucalypt bush and plant fire resistant exotics instead.
    The entire meeting erupted into outraged boos and threats. Walked out and left them to it.

  1. 1 Bushfires and lynch mobs - Woolly Days article at STRANGE TIMES
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